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Capital Punishment

This form of punishment is the application of the death penalty to certain crimes as a result of a legal process. Theosophical writers generally oppose capital punishment on various grounds, the main one being that it involves committing another murder, as well as the fact that the executed criminal, whose natural life has been cut short, becomes an earth-bound entity who can still influence the thoughts and feelings of living people to commit crime. Helena P. BLAVATSKY, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, has made a somewhat sobering comment about capital punishment — “. . . the juryman, in deciding for a verdict of guilty, of necessity, becomes an accessory in a fresh murder.” She also, in the same article (Lucifer, June 1890, p. 335) points out that the juryman or jurywoman decides the issue on a “head” basis and not a “heart” basis, which means that not all the circumstances have been taken into account. Further, by analogy she says that a true physician wishes to cure the cause rather than the disease.

Gottfried de PURUCKER, a Leader of the Pasadena TS, states, “. . . capital punishment . . . is utterly wrong and unnecessary, and is not a deterrent of crime in the long run. Capital punishment is to be condemned absolutely” (Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 615).

Capital punishment has been advocated for a number of reasons that have received strong opposition from many quarters: First, there is the assumption that a court of law invariably arrives at the truth; this is demonstrably a wrong assumption; many innocent persons have been executed. Second, the statement is made that capital punishment is a highly successful deterrent of crime; this has been disputed and researches tend to indicate that the reintroduction or abolition of capital punishment has little or no effect on the incidence of murder. Violent crimes are often committed in the heat of passion, and thus the nature of the punishment has little or no deterrent effect on the action.

Charles W. LEADBEATER has stated that the execution of criminals can cause a great deal of mischief when they are released from the body but remain earthbound in the astral plane since they can influence others to commit crimes.

There is reason to believe that the process of execution has a brutalizing effect on those present, or at the least is a very great strain on them. The Christian Bible can be used to argue for or against capital punishment. The Old Testament calls for “An eye for an eye. . . .” (Ex. 21:24), but the ten commandments state unequivocally “Thou shalt not kill” and Jesus said in the Sermon of the Mount, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (5:38-39 KJV).

Probably the most telling argument in favor of execution of criminals is that of the cost of imprisonment. This varies greatly between countries, but a typical figure for Western countries has been quoted at US$60,000 per year under high security (1996).

The Indian yoga systems are quite uncompromising where spiritual path aspirants are involved. The requirement is “harmless living” known by the Sanskrit term ahimsa. Thus there would have to be total opposition to capital punishment.

Neither theosophy or the TS makes any forthright statement regarding capital punishment or any other code of behavior directly, although many of the Society’s prominent members have expressed opinions. Opposition to legal execution arises out of the fundamental philosophy that nature is a unity and wilful killing of any living thing runs counter to the Divine Plan.

Annie BESANT, in The Ancient Wisdom, wrote: “Executed murderers, furious with terror and passionate revengeful hatred, acting over again . . . their crime and recreating mentally its terrible results, surround themselves with an atmosphere of savage thought-forms, and, attracted to any one harboring revengeful and violent designs, they egg him on into the actual commission of the deed over which he broods.”

William Q. JUDGE wrote that because the executed criminal has not come to the natural end of his life, after death he wakes up in his astral body a fully sentient being with passion and hatred. He becomes dangerous because his thoughts are invisibly influencing living people with like thoughts. “Many a person has been impelled by some unknown force to commit crime; and that force came from such an inhabitant of our sphere.” The same view is espoused by C. W. Leadbeater.

In Blavatsky’s, Besant’s, Leadbeater’s, and Judge’s day, the execution of criminals was done soon after their trial. That is no longer the case in many Western countries, so one suspects that the delay, either due to appeals or life imprisonment, could have a moderating — or even negating — effect on the claimed after-life anger and consequent harmful telepathic effect on others. Also, even hardened criminals are usually given access to educational facilities, which could significantly change their character for the better. Furthermore, in the U.S., at least, the appeals process, which usually delays the execution, is now more costly than the expense of life imprisonment. So, there is little or no justification for capital punishment, even from a non-theosophical point of view.